By Steve Corkran
Sunday, December 18th, 2011 at 7:59 pm in Oakland Raiders.
Despite so many losses over the years, it would be difficult to imagine a more damaging one than the Raiders 28-27 defeat at the hands of the Detroit Lions on Sunday.
The Raiders led by 13 points with 7 minutes, 47 seconds left, they had a sold-out crowd lending their support and the Lions offense had become one-dimensional.
Worse, the Raiders received numerous reminders throughout the game about the Denver Broncos and New York Jets losing big. This one was there for the taking.
In the end, it was the Lions who did all the taking. Quarterback Matthew Stafford connected for two touchdown passes within the final 5 minutes, including one with 39 seconds left, in rallying the Lions for an improbable victory.
Lions defensive tackle Ndamukong Suh preserved the victory by partially blocking Sebastian Janikowski’s 65-yard field-goal attempt as time expired.
“Obvious to say I’m disappointed is an understatment,” Raiders coach Hue Jackson said. “A team just went 98 yards and found a way to win. We had chances to win the game.”
Stafford guided the Lions 98 yards in less than two minutes for the game-deciding touchdown after Shane Lechler had pinned the Lions with a punt with 2:14 left in the game.
Stafford completed 5 of 8 passes for 91 yards on the drive, which was aided by a 17-yard pass interference penalty on cornerback Stanford Routt.
“We knew we had to win that one and fought hard, fought hard, fought hard and let it slip,” Raiders strong safety Tyvon Branch said. “These are the games that hurt. These are the games you remember, and they hurt for a long time.”
The pain is going to linger into the offseason if losing this game winds up costing the Raiders a playoff berth.
As of now, the Raiders are right where they started the day, one game behind the Broncos in the AFC West and one game behind the New York Jets in the chase for the second wild-card berth — the Cincinnati Bengals joined the Jets at 8-6 with a victory over the St. Louis Rams today.
For the Raiders to make the playoffs, one of two things needs to happen.
One, they need to finish ahead of the Broncos in the AFC West, unless the Broncos lose to the Kansas City Chiefs on Jan. 1. In that case, the Raiders would win the tiebreaker based on a better divisional record, assuming the Raiders beat the Chiefs on Saturday and the San Diego Chargers on Jan. 1.
Second, the Raiders need to finish ahead of or tied with the Jets. The Raiders would win the tiebreak over the Jets by virtue of a victory over the Jets earlier this season.
Still crunching the numbers to see how the Raiders would fare in a three-way tie with the Jets and Bengals. If that happens, the tiebreak is strength of victory.
“It would be easy to go in the tank and say, ‘We blew our opportunity,’ ” Raiders quarterback Carson Palmer said, “but we have a good group of leadership and we understand where we are. Obviously, we desperately needed this win. It didn’t work out. But we’ve got two big games left, and who knows what happens with other teams. We need help, obviously.”
PALMER’S BIG GAME
Palmer rebounded from, perhaps, his worst game as a Raider with his best. He completed 32 of 40 passes for 367 yards and two touchdowns.
Two of Palmer’s incompletions came on spikes late in the first half. However, two of Palmer’s six other incompletions came at critical junctures.
On one play, Palmer sailed a ball over the head of wide receiver Denarius Moore, who ran past a Lions cornerback — the defender fell on his face — and into the open in the end zone.
Then, late in the game, Palmer’s deep pass for receiver Chaz Schilens hit off Schilens’ hand on a third-and-three play. That not only stopped the clock, when the Lions were out of time-outs, but it passed as a bit ambitious when the Raiders needed only 3 yards for a first down.
From there, the Raiders could have run out most of the clock. As it turned out, the Raiders punted and gave the Lions one more opportunity, which they cashed in with a game-winning drive.
Palmer said he still was thinking about his two overthrows after the game.
“Absolutely. Absolutely. The third down to Chaz, where I put too much on the ball,” Palmer said, “I need to give him a better chance to make a play on it. That’s a game-changing play.
“I had another one early on in the game to Denarius that I wish I would have hit. And that’s why I said, we just didn’t make enough plays and I didn’t make enough plays to give us a chance to put them away.”
PENALTIES KEEP PILING UP
Jackson ripped into his players earlier this week about eliminating some of the penalties that surfaced game after game. Palmer and other players said they received the message and understood the importance of playing “smarter” football.
The Raiders went a long time without any penalties Sunday and even made it into the locker room at halftime with only three for 15 yards.
However, by game’s end the final tally looked pretty similar to other games. The Raiders finished with 10 for 86, including a personal foul on linebacker Aaron Curry for celebrating too much after his fumble return for a touchdown.
That forced the Raiders to kick off from their own 20-yard line and made it easier for the Lions to score a touchdown on the ensuing possession.
HEYWARD-BEY’S BIG GAME
Wide receiver Darrius Heyward-Bey caught a career-high eight passes for 155 yards and one touchdown. Like Palmer, his performance was overshadowed by a couple of plays.
Heyward-Bey fumbled at the end of a 29-yard reception late in the third quarter, with the Raiders leading 17-14 and driving for another score. He also dropped a pass on Oakland’s final drive, when the Raiders were working their way toward better field position for a potential Janikowski field goal.
“I would’ve liked our chances better there,” Jackson said. “You got to make those plays. It goes back to the same thing. If you don’t make those plays, then you lose. And we didn’t make ‘em. And we had our chances. We can point to three plays. You can point to that one, you can point to the fumble going in.”
Heyward-Bey seemed to take no solace in his impressive overall performance.
“I don’t think about what kind of game I played,” Heyward-Bey said. “I just think about how we lost.”
QUESTIONABLE CALLS BY JACKSON
Jackson is fond of saying he lives life on the edge. The downside is, of course, there’s always the risk of falling off.
On Sunday, Jackson passed on a 42-yard field-goal attempt in favor of a pass for Moore on fourth-and-one. Hard to fault Jackson, given Moore was wide open and the play should have resulted in a touchdown.
However, a field goal at that point would have changed the complexion of the game in the fourth quarter. Same goes for Jackson’s decision to go for the extra point, when the Raiders scored a touchdown to make it 26-14. A two-point coversion would have given the Raiders a 14-point lead.
“You just kick it, you go for one,” Jackson said. “There’s a time to go for two and there’s a time … to me, I thought going for one in that situation is the right thing to do, OK?”
Palmer said he isn’t one to second-guess a coach.
“I never question coach,” Palmer said. “He knows what he’s doing. It’s easy to say, Monday morning quarterback, to look back and say, shoulda done this, shoulda done that, or second guess things. We thought after that, offensively, we’d just stay on the field and the game’s over. And we didn’t stay on the field.”
As for the fourth-down call, Jackson said the real question is, why didn’t the officials call a penalty on the Lions.
“I thought that was a penalty,” Jackson said. “Obviously, they didn’t call it. What I saw, from what my vantage point is, I seen the guy grab, kind of hook Denarius.”
Regardless, Jackson feels as if he made the proper call.
“You have to take that shot,” Jackson said. “It looked … and the guy was wide open. If you’re going to do it, it’s good to do it early in the game so it doesn’t determine the outcome of the game. Obviously, every play now will get questioned (saying) that is the reason why we did or didn’t win, but we’re going to stay aggressive. We took a shot there. I thought we had a good chance at it but we didn’t hit it. We came up short.”
Defensive tackle Richard Seymour recorded no tackles his past two games and only one the past five games. On Sunday, he posted two tackles and batted away a pass on a third-down play.
On several other plays, Seymour penetrated the Lions offensive line and pressured Stafford. He might not have had the big game that defensive coordinator Chuck Bresnahan predicted but he certainly made his presence felt.
Follow me on Twitter: @corkonthenfl